Having passed it just enough times to whet my appetite, I finally arranged my schedule over the weekend to stop into Andalous Moroccan restaurant (3307 N. Clark) for lunch. In a word: wonderful. I couldn't find any other reviews of it in a quick search, so here's mine.
Andalous is a medium-sized restaurant--perhaps a couple dozen tables--with photographs of Morocco on the walls and lots of homey artifacts scattered around. It has a warm, vaguely family-like feeling and, being the sole customer at 2:15 pm, I was able to engage Hadj, the owner, in some conversation. Before I left, two other groups came in for lunch as well. I ordered harira soup, pastilla, and a dessert pastry called selou.
While I was waiting for the soup, Hadj delivered a small plate of roughly chopped black olives. (There seemed to be bits of eggplant and preserved lemon in the mix as well, as well as "Moroccan" spices-meaning, I'm not sure.) The olives were served with a dish of harissa, the fiery-red chili pepper sauce. I like spicy, but not blisteringly hot, so spooned only a tiny bit of harissa on the olives. As I subsequently discovered, they have "Americanized" the harissa. Even so, Hadj said, many people still find it too hot. I thought it was just right, spicy with a full, round flavor. A great complement to the olives.
The soup looked and tasted like a cousin to minestrone. There was two things about it that stood out for me, though. First it was garnished with lemon and, adding the lemon to the soup enhanced it even more. It gave it a lighter, fresher, feel without adding the taste of lemon per se. Clearly a cousin to minestrone without having the heaviness I typically associate with minestrone. Liberally sprinkled in the soup, too, were fresh garbanzo (cece) beans. I don't think I've ever had them fresh before. I don't know enough about them; I tend to dislike them. But these seemed clearly not from a can and had a wonderful, soft, un-mealy, texture that made them a nice complement to the soup. A success.
The main course was pastilla-or as I have seen it spelled elsewhere, b'stilla. It is a small pie (a large disk about six inches across and about 1-1/2 inches deep) made of roughly shredded chicken and chopped almonds. The whole is seasoned and then wrapped in several layers of phyllo and baked. It comes to the bale liberally sprinkled with powdered sugar and cinnamon. And it was absolutely terrific. My only difficulty was finishing the entire serving. You get your own little pie and it was more than a generous serving. Hadj told me there are three Moroccans in back and judging by everything I saw and ate, it is all made to order. Freshness seemed to be key and everything was delicious.
I ordered mint tea to have with lunch and it came, as I should have expected, heavily sweetened. But with fresh whole mint leaves and piping hot. A wonderful complement to the meal. Dessert was selou, a combination of honey, sesame seeds, almonds, and orange blossom water. Or at least that's what the menu says. I wasn't knocked out by it, but it was nevertheless enjoyable. (My only quibble was its size: about 1-1/2 inches square).
Prices: there are two soups (a lentil soup in addition to the harira) for $2.50 each. The menu features six appetizers ranging from $4.75 to 6.95 (and including something that the more adventurous of you may wish to try: keba meshrmela: cubed beef liver sauteed with onions and herbs and then finished with tomatoes, cilantro, preserved lemon and olives!) Much of the entrée portion of the menu is devoted to tagines (there are eleven different ones, including vegetarian ones) plus couscous, pastilla, and a few other entrees, such as kebobs. Almost all entrees are around $11 (pastilla and a fish tagine being the only exceptions, at $14 and $15, respectively). There is a small dessert menu (each of three items is $1.50 each or $5.50 for all three plus mint tea).
Although I didn't take advantage of it, there is also a patio out back and I imagine it is a wonderful place to have a long leisurely lunch. I am not a Moroccan food maven, but everything seemed authentic and fresh to me. Made-to-order and made by people who know what they're doing. I'll be returning and I urge you to give it a try as well.
By the way: I notice from their business card that they are byob and charge no corkage. Yet another plus and reason to check it out.
Andalous Moroccan Restaurant
3307 N. Clark Avenue
(they even have a website--which I have not had a chance to see--at www.andalous.com)
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